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15. June 2017 · Comments Off on Another Lone Star Sons Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Part two of Into the Wild, which when I finish this and five or six more like it will make up the next collection of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventures – Lone Star Glory

Part 2 of Into the Wild

The room was an office of sorts; a fairly workmanlike one, with several crude desks, lined with shelves of books and boxes of documents along the inner walls, and a small table and several chairs by the window. There were four men in the office, one of whom Jim knew instantly to be important, because he was Jack’s higher commander; Governor Wood. Of the other three, two were in uniform – again, the blue of the federal Army, but only the older of the pair was anyone to command respect. The younger lingered by the doorway with Sgt. Grayson, for the older officer and the gent in the expensive waistcoat had commanded the scattering of chairs by the window.
“Colonel Hays,” the older officer rose and extended his hand – a fit-appearing gentleman in middle years, his hair and impressive mustache and side-whiskers only lightly touched with grey. “My pleasure – Joe Harrell. We met briefly after Saltillo, although you had so much on your plate at that time, with the press of war to prosecute and your Rangers to command, that I will not hold it against you should you not recollect that previous occasion.”
“But I do recall you – and with appreciation,” Jack returned the courtesy. “You did us good service, my Rangers and I, after Saltillo. You were a god-send for my fellows… forgive me, I recall what men were able to do for my people, but not the rank or the office they held when doing it.”
“Supply Corps,” General Harrell returned, with good humor. “A necessary, yet underrated department. A matter of ledgers, lists, and registers, of figures and supplies. But hey – the great Napoleon himself observed that an Army marches on its stomach.”
“And is this a matter of concern to the Supply Corps?” Jack went to the point of this meeting without any fanfare, and Governor Wood sighed.
“Brass tacks,” he observed with a glance ceilingward. “That’s what I have always liked about you, Jack – a disinclination to waste time getting down to them.”
“The matter upon which you and your agents have been summoned is actually a matter of national pride; only peripherally a matter most personal to me,” answered the gentleman in the expensively ornate waistcoat. “Randall Burke, of Kentucky, Colonel Hays. I do have an interest regarding the whereabouts – or even the survival of Captain O’Neill.” The gentleman’s florid countenance turned briefly mournful. “Before his untimely disappearance, he was – he is engaged to my daughter, Rebecca. Gentlemen, if you have no daughters, you have no idea of the wiles which they can wind around your heart. My darling Rebecca has been waging a campaign of the kind which no mortal father can stand long against – find her beloved, she implores me; find him and restore him to her, or her heart will break. ‘Papa’ she begged me, ‘you have influential friends, important friends, you can surely exchange favors.’” Senator Burke offered a small and very wry smile. “I do not ordinarily trade on my office for personal consideration, gentlemen – but I must admit that if Captain O’Neill’s aged mother, a sister or an affianced other than my Rebecca had come and begged me to do what I could … I fear that I would be making the same request of you that I am making now. Find Captain O’Neill. General Harrell is among my oldest friends; he was in a position to facilitate this meeting and sponsor my request of you.”
“Understood,” Jack Hays nodded. “But I still wonder, gentlemen – since he wasn’t our concern when he was – er, misplaced somewhere in the new western territories, why should you come to us, ask my fellows for their assistance? I might have thought this was the business of the US Army.”
“And so it would have been,” General Harrell replied warmly. “But it seems there is a potential complication, one which might prove embarrassing to … to whomever. And that is why outsiders such as your compatriots are involved. The matter is of the utmost delicacy.” He cast a significant look at Governor Wood.
“Jack – I’ll be in my own office,” Governor Wood nodded. “If you wish to speak with me when the gentlemen are finished briefing you on this particular … engagement.” The Governor absented himself from the dusty office with efficient dispatch, although Jim wondered why – if this was such a matter of delicacy, why Sergeant Grayson and the unnamed young officer remained, hovering at the door as if they were hounds bidden to stay, yet uncertain of their welcome within the circle. Jack claimed the last chair, and eyed General Harrell and Senator Burke as they resumed their seats.
“So – how exactly did you come to lose track of your heroic young captain? You may speak freely, as Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw will be the Texas men of my department dispatched on this errand. And what is the exact nature of this delicate matter?”
“Sergeant Grayson is the one most able to answer that question,” General Harrell replied, “As he was part of Captain O’Neill’s exploration party, and the senior NCO remaining. Sergeant – would you explain the situation?”
“Gladly, sah!” Sergeant Grayson stepped forward, assuming an attitude of formal parade-rest before the half-circle of chairs, and fixing his eyes on the farther wall – a thing which Jim found vaguely irritating. It was as if the man were performing in a pantomime. “We set out early in the spring of last year from Shreveport, our mission being to follow the old trail to Santa Fe, and then to strike northwesterly from there, to map the uncharted wastelands, and search out a certain river – a river of significant size, which was reported by Spanish explorers many years ago. It was the conviction of Captain O’Neill that this river, if navigable by craft of any size, might provide a most expeditious route to California… The great Colorado, they call it. Means “Red” so I am told.”
“Did you locate this river, then?” Jack cut into the flow of words. “And at what point was Captain O’Neill lost to your part?”
“Indeed we did, sah!” Sergeant Grayson answered warmly. “And the portion of it which we explored – so sublime a sight as may hardly be imagined! Grooved deep into the earth, attended by mighty rock towers and cliffs striped in red, orange, gold – the colors of flame, in the sunlight of a dying day. I have seen many splendors on this earth, gentleman, but that grand river, cradled in its mighty red canyon …” he shook his head. “Captain O’Neill waxed even more poetic. He was like a boy in a toy-shop, sah, marveling at everything. Nothing would content him than to essay a venture down to the water-edge with a corporal and two private soldiers of our party, leaving me in charge of the remainder. They carried a patent collapsible boat with them, intending to venture a little way down the river. We were to be collecting geological and botanical specimens, y’see, while we waited on Captain O’Neill’s return in a fortnight.”
“That was perilous, to so split your party in that fashion,” Jack remarked, with veiled disapproval. “Especially when you are uncertain of the friendliness of the local Indian folk.”
“Not so,” Sergeant Grayson demurred. “The natives were of a nature inclined to be friendly; farming folk in the main. They make fine baskets and pottery, grow crops of maize and orchard fruit as fine as any Christian. Although they would make bonny warriors if rightly provoked, they do not live for it, as do the Comanche, and export war wholesale.”
“Well, that’s some comfort,” General Harrell remarked, in some relief. “Hear that, young Joe? No chances of death or glory against the wild Comanche for you this journey! Just bring back your old playfellows’ dearest, and that should be sufficient reward.”
“I heard, sir,” the young officer answered, with easy familiarity. “I suppose Becky will weep all over me in that case – and I will be forgiven for teasing her so mercilessly when we were children.”
“It depends,” General Harrell smiled. “Colonel Hays – my son, Lieutenant Harrell. He is newly-graduated, and will be a part of your expedition at his insistence. Captain O’Neill was an upper-classman, and much reverenced among the junior cadets. His orders, and those for Sergeant Grayson are all cut and approved. I hope that you will forgive my presumption,” he added, looking searchingly at Jack, Jim and Toby. “But for reasons of security, I prefer to involve only family and those connections of proven discretion, in addition to your people, Colonel Hays. There is one other, who will be a part of this expedition, although he is not privy to the entire story … continue, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sah!” Sergeant Grayson fixed his gaze on the opposite wall. Jim was quite certain this was not for any intrinsic beauty of the wall itself, as it was an uninspiring collection of rough shelves, and a tattered map of Texas tacked to that part not covered with shelves and stacked with ledgers. Jim murmured an aside to his blood-brother, “So we are getting to the part about how they were able to lose their hero – and how that came to be a potential embarrassment to the Federal Army.”
“We waited for seventeen days,” Sergeant Grayson continued, still staring at the wall. “I was disinclined, sah, to split our party even further, in sending out a small detachment to search for Captain O’Neill. He was a man of his word; if he said he would return in a fortnight, then he would return in a fortnight. If he did not, he said that I should use my best judgement in that eventuality. The Captain reposed a great deal of trust in me,” Sergeant Grayson added with a touch of modest pride. “Since I have soldiered, man and boy for more than thirty years and under three flags, counting this one.”
“Likely you have forgotten more of the trade than many have ever learned,” General Harrell agreed. “As a Living Rule of the art of soldiering. I cannot say that such trust was misplaced.”
“Thank you, sah,” Sergeant Grayson unbent sufficiently to look directly at his small audience, and Jack cleared his throat. “And on the seventeenth day,” he asked, quietly.
Sergeant Grayson’s gaze snapped back to the wall. “On the seventeenth day, Corporal Mayhew staggered into our camp in a most piteous condition. The corporal was one of the party accompanying the Captain. He was nearly dead from exposure, hunger, and thirst, besides having half his ribs stove in. But he was able to tell us of what happened; on the eighth day of their explorations of the river, the boat was taken by a sudden swift current, and smashed on the rocks. Private MacLean and Private Josephson drowned in deep water, their bodies carried away in the current. Captain O’Neill’s leg was broken, most painfully, and he had an almighty crack to the skull. He could not walk, and was unconscious for some time. Mayhew was hurt only a little less severely, but he managed to pull Captain O’Neill to safety, in a little cove sheltered by a cliff overhang. He left the Captain comfortably settled in that shelter, with a water-bottle, and what he could retrieve of the supplies. He gathered wood, built a small fire, administered what doctoring he could render and went to fetch aid from our main camp. He was four or five days at that … venturing back along the riverbank, and climbing back up along the path they had followed going down. He was …” Sergeant Grayson’s harsh voice roughened. “In no very good condition, sah. He was crawling on hands and knees at the last, and only lived a day or so – just long enough to tell us of what had happened.”
“A brave young man,” Senator Burke remarked, much moved, although he must have heard the story at least once before. “And a credit to the uniform, and to his commander.”
“No, sah, in a spirit of honesty, I would beg to disagree,” Sergeant Grayson continued his rigid examination of the wall. “He was addicted to strong drink and consorting w’ women of the disreputable class. I did not think he was of the stuff that the best are made of – but he did well enough, for all o’ that, and died doing his duty.”
“Nothing in his life became him so much as his manner of leaving it, eh?” Senator Burke commented, and Sergeant Grayson appeared even grimmer than before.
“Aye so. Well, he was thorough enough – poor lad – when it came to marking his trail. We followed it easily, but upon finding the cove and cave where Captain O’Neill had been – there was nothing save the ashes of a dead fire – and a few scraps of the rubberized canvas from the remains of the boat. That was how we were certain of the place, sah; the bits of the boat, y’see. The Captain was gone. “We searched the nearby riverbanks as carefully as we could on foot, having lost use of the boat.” Sergeant Grayson’s eyes returned to the tattered map on the wall opposite. “And found no other trace of the Captain, although we found and buried Private Josephson alongside Corporal Mayhew. Having done so, we made all speed to return east and file reports, along with the maps and samples, and considered the expedition completed.”
“Ah, then – that is how they lost him,” Jim murmured to his blood-brother, as they watched this with interest. “In a delirium, fallen into the river, and carried away. No doubt of it.”
“But I do not understand the requirement for secrecy,” Jack cleared his throat. “Sad enough to lose a man in that manner – injured and alone in the wilderness, and of course his loved ones would grieve his loss, but I simply do not see this as a matter of …”
“There’s more to this,” General Harrell held up a hand. “Thank you, Sergeant – I’ll carry on from here. You will see the need for discretion when I am finished. The following spring, there was a small story in the weekly St. Louis Register which excited much comment; a tale by a pair of Mormon missionaries searching for converts among the heathen – a tale of a white man living among a tribe settled along the river … which from our calculations was not far from where Captain O’Neill and his party came to grief. It struck me as a curious coincidence and I made further inquiries. The original story was printed in the California Star – the proprietor is a Mormon, you see, and would know of such incidents involving his coreligionists. Two weeks ago, a messenger returned from California with urgent dispatches – and a fuller accounting of the missionaries visit to the Havasuopii village, including a physical description of the white man. He was tall, with sandy-colored hair, and walked with a bad limp.”
“There must be any number of white renegades and mountain men – even captives taken as children,” Jack pointed out. Jim nodded; he knew of at least a dozen such – captured as children raised as Indians, and adopted into their tribe. “What of your missing Private McLean? He was reported drowned as well – but perhaps…”
“McLean was a dark Scot, near as dark as an Indian himself,” Sergeant Grayson interjected. “And no’ what you would call tall. But I take your point, Colonel, sah – about renegades and such. But the description of this man also made note of a peculiar scar on his forehead. The Captain had such a scar, gotten in the fighting at Monterrey.”
“You see, Colonel,” General Harrell sighed heavily. “It very well might be O’Neill. And if it is – it means that an officer of this Army has deserted his duties, his loved ones – his very life among civilized people. The embarrassment to the Army, to our government, after having proclaimed him a hero, honored and decorated will be enormous, if word got out. Tt may be also that he was deprived of his memory through that blow to the head, in which case he must be returned to us, that he might be restored to family and career. In either case, we simply must resolve this matter and mystery, and do so without causing an embarrassing scandal. I know that you and your people can be trusted to be discrete; such discretion is not only the better part of valor, it is also the better part of diplomacy. Only those of us within this room know the full import of this mission.”
There was silence in the musty office for a long moment, while motes of dust danced in the slanted sunlight coming through the glazed window. Finally, Jack spoke.
“You fellows have taken in all that? Good.” He fixed General Harrell and the Senator with his sternest gaze. “Jim Reade and Toby Shaw are two of the best I have – you just say the word, and when you want them to leave.”
“Excellent, Colonel!” General Harrell beamed. “Then in two weeks, from Camp Verde – where the fifth of this venture will join you. Ned Beale – he’s a Navy man, but knows the west about as well as any of us landlubbers. There will be your lads, my son and Sergeant Grayson – only you four know the real purpose of this mission!”
“Pardon me for inquiring,” Jim spoke in his normal voice for almost the first time in this interview. “But – why Camp Verde? We can just as well depart from here. I have my own trash and traps, Mr. Shaw has his; we are in expectation of heading off into whichever direction Colonel Jack sends us on a moment’s notice.”
“Because that is where you will collect up the camels!” General Harrell replied, with a mighty laugh at the expression which had descended on all their faces – Sergeant Grayson’s excepted. Jim could only think that he had become well-accustomed to insane requirements while in service to his variable flags.

13. June 2017 · Comments Off on LAUNCHED · Categories: Luna City, Random Book and Media Musings

All righty, then – Luna City IV is fairly launched – although at present I believe that more copies of the ebook version have sold than the print version. There are already a handful of reviews, two of which (so far) plaintively complain that we are writing too slowly, and when is the next installment due for release?

Well – in this best of all possible worlds, we could (and have!) turned out a Luna City book in six months, but honestly, I hate to rush things that much. And I have another book – the next Lone Star Sons to finish in time for release at the Christmas shopping season markets. The next Luna City could be out in early next spring, or as late as June 2018. We do have the general story arc worked out, but the actual writing takes time, and these things are like a good cheese or fine wine. They have to mellow a bit, before being released for consumption by the public. Besides, there are other books to be worked on as well. Although I will reveal who is on the phone with Kate Heisel in the last scene; it’s one of her news contacts, but that bad news that she has for Richard will be revealed in the next book – A Fifth of Luna City. (There are a couple of clues as to what that bad news might be, in some of the intervals, if readers want to put two and two together.) And yes, every one of the Luna City books will end on a cliffhanger.

06. June 2017 · Comments Off on The Start of Another Lone Star Sons Aventure · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(And I promise that I will finish this one!)

Into the Wilds

“I came as soon as I received your message,” Toby Shaw arrived at the Bullock House in Austin where Jack Hays and Jim Reade had taken rooms while they awaited the arrival of Jim’s trusted fellow ‘stiletto man’ on before the meeting with Governor Wood. The stage from Fort Belknap delivered Toby promptly on the third day after their arrival; Toby resplendent in a well-cut suit, fashionable cravat, and white shirt – his long braids the only jarring note in his otherwise conventional appearance. “What is so important regarding this task that we are both bidden to Austin?”

“I have no idea,” Jim answered. “Colonel Hays has been remarkably close-mouthed on that score … as always.”

“Part of my ingratiating personal charm,” Jack replied, with a hearty handshake. “Sit down, sit down … and I have no notion of the purpose myself. I know – difficult to credit. But I’ve been away for months, and had a war with Mexico to win, so I’ve lost touch with the day to day of things. I’ve organized a private supper, so that we can catch up – and not set gossiping tongues to wagging. Since it is the Governor himself driving this … I can only speculate that it is something to do with the United States.”

“Of which we are now one, since Annexation,” Jim pointed out. “And with the US Army to see to our security – what purpose do we have now? Toby and I, and your handful of other stiletto fellows?”

“Oh, there are purposes,” Jack replied. “One or two, still left to us as Rangers. I believe that the governor will be prompt in relieving all our curiosity tomorrow morning. We are bidden to a private conference at nine of the clock at the capitol building, and not to breath a word to anyone of this. It appears to be an extremely sensitive matter.”

“Aren’t all of them?” Jim raised an eyebrow. Jack laughed, and then his expression turned melancholy.

“Most of them, I think. I fear that the feats performed by my stiletto-men Rangers will never be made public; only recorded in certain dusty archives and locked in a sturdy iron safe for all eternity.”

“Well, we didn’t get into it for the glory, did we, Toby?” Jim shrugged philosophically. “We did it for … because it was in the cause of justice.” His blood-brother laughed, replying, “Justice, in the way of your courts, James-Reade-Esquire? We perform our tasks because it is right to do. If the Great Spirit alone knows – why then, what does it matter to us?”

“Well-said, boys,” Jack regarded the two with approval, and Jim thought that he looked … well, wearier and older. The brief sharp war with Mexico had aged their commander. A fair number of his old Ranger comrades had fallen in that field; Addison Gillespie and Sam Walker dead on campaign, and one of his oldest Ranger associates sidelined by wounds and walking away when his final enlistment was done. But it was as if Jack intuited that thought of Jim’s – for he smiled immediately, and exclaimed,

“I know the cooking at Bullock’s isn’t a patch on the market ladies in Bexar with their pots of good red stew – but I have an appetite tonight! Shall we swap stretchers about what we all have been up to since the last time we met?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Jim answered – and so the evening passed agreeably enough, especially since Jack produced a bottle of good bourbon whiskey – “From Kentucky, a gift from a good friend!” Jack insisted, although Jim had suspicions, since the bottle was absent any label. And Toby foreswore any of it, unless well-diluted with water, saying only that although he was not of the temperance persuasion, and not adverse entirely towards a jolly evening with old friends, he did not care to partake of liquor at full-strength.

 

In the morning, Jack, Toby and Jim strolled the short way up Congress Street to the frame capitol building which edifice crowned the top of the hill – a commanding height in Austin, which had been built in a fair and parklike meadow, dotted by copses of noble oak and cypress trees, and threaded through with creeks of clear water. Now the heights to north and south of the great silver sweep of the Colorado River looked down upon a city invigorated by the peace which followed on the successful prosecution of a war, and the consummation of a marriage between an independent Texas and the United States; a marriage which canny old General Sam Houston had labored to arrange for ten long and bitter years. Still, Jim slightly regretted the surrender of a state of independency. It meant that the Rangers were no longer needed; now the US Army, dressed in their fine blue coats and commanded by gold-braid-hung officers would be responsible for the frontier … and for those matters of security which had been Jack’s particular responsibility. Perhaps his term as one of Jack’s stiletto-men was also at an end, a matter about which he was in two minds. His father was old – still vigorous in the practice of law, and their joint practice in Galveston gave every sign of being lively and prosperous, could Jim only pay considerable more of his time and energies to it.

If Toby felt something of the same regrets, he gave no sign of it, as they crossed the porch of that white-washed frame building which served as the capital, and stood in the entryway. The door stood halfway open to a hallway. They were a few minutes early, by Jim’s stout hunter watch. Without hesitation, Jack thumped on the door panel with his fists, and called,

“Say, anyone at home? I’m Colonel Hays, and we have an appointment with Governor Wood.”

“At least I didn’t have my heart seat on a grand reception,” Jim remarked, and Toby – standing at several paces behind, peered over Jack’s shoulder, saying, “Maybe we should ask that soldier?”

Hearing those words, a stocky, grizzled man in US Army blue sprang from a seat at the foot of the stairs, straightening into something resembling attention, and rendering a crisp salute. His sleeves bore a satisfactory number of stripes, testifying to the utter solidity of the man and his value to the federal Army.

“Colonel Hays, sah! I was told to expect you at any moment.  The gentlemen are waiting upstairs. If you and your good gentlemen would be so kind as to follow after me. The General is a man who esteems punctuality.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Jack returned the salute with a nod, never having been much of one for military protocol and the practice thereof. “Have you any notion of what this is about, Sergeant …”

“Grayson, sah – and I do, but I have been given the strictest of orders, straight from the General, which the Senator hisself approved in the next breath.”

“I expect that it is a matter of national importance then?” Jim ventured, as they climbed the stairs, and Sergeant Grayson looked over his shoulder at them. Jim wondered why the man seemed so … familiar, and in a way that suggested a previous encounter had not been a pleasant one.

“In a manner o’ speaking. But if you ken the matter properly – there is a touch o’ the personal as well. And to more than just to the Senator. But,” Sergeant Grayson recovered his sense of discretion, a sense which warred against the propensity of non-coms to pass along interesting gossip and suppositions. “I should say no more, properly. But it is personal to me as well. Captain O’Neill was … well, he was one of the good ones.” Ah – English; Jim made a note to himself, and a reminder to conceal at all costs his instinctive dislike of the man. Grayson was an Englishman; in appearance and manner very like that English agent who had been involved in the matter of the old Casa Wilkinson … and more balefully, in the lost San Saba Treasure.

“Captain O’Neill?” Toby looked across at Jim, as they followed Jack and Sergeant Grayson up the stairs at a discreet distance. “What of this – and what to do with us, James Reade Esquire?”

“I can’t be certain,” Jim whispered back. “But if he means Captain Brendan O’Neill – and I am thinking that he must – the Captain was one of the rising bright stars in the Army, if the newspapers have it right. A favored child of fortune, as my father would put it. A graduate of West Point, although his background was hardly favorable, being the child of poor Irish immigrants. He was taken prisoner briefly in fighting in Monterray, but made a daring escape to our lines on the city outskirts. Feted all around Washington and promoted for his trouble. Then he was given command of an expedition into the western territories, even before they were turned over as part of the peace settlement.”

“Ah then,” Toby whispered, as Sergeant Grayson approached a door at the head of the stairs. “He was favored by the great chiefs to lead a war party.”

“Not a war party,” Jim corrected him. “Rather a party of exploration – to make maps of land features, find natural roads, and make friends with the Indian tribes, in the expectation of making allies among them.”

“A far-thinking notion,” Toby nodded. “Most uncharacteristic of what I have seen so far of the Yengies. What has this matter to do with us?”

“Likely because he never came back from it,” was all that Jim could say before Sergeant Grayson rapped briefly on the closed door at the top of the stairs. At a word from inside, Sergeant Grayson opened the door and announced in a stentorian voice reminiscent of a parade ground, “Colonel Hays, with…”

“Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw,” Jack stepped through the door, while Jim winced. Yes, a captaincy was a nice thing to have, but it was more for a show of authority – a courtesy title, rather than an actual rank. On the other hand, he reflected as he followed Jack and regarded the four men within, it was a small but significant thing, in their eyes.

06. June 2017 · Comments Off on Some New Additions to the Vintage Wardrobe · Categories: Domestic

A hat to go with the lavender and black cotton day dress — and a handbag made from leather-look vinyl scraps left over from a chair reupholstery project:

Accessories to Go!

25. May 2017 · Comments Off on Luna City IV – Arrived in Print and Kindle · Categories: Book Event, Luna City

(And at Barnes & Noble, as well as through other ebook providers)
Behold!

Link to print and Kindle here.

And on June 10th – I’ll be here – and with copies of all the Luna City books!

 

 

 

16. May 2017 · Comments Off on Another Vintage Costume Project · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

Now that Luna City IV is to the point where I can take a bit of a breath (it’s available as of this week, in Kindle and Nook and other ebook formats, and in print by the end of the month) and plunge into another vintage outfit project. Yes, back in early winter, I took full advantage of Butterick having a pattern sale, whereby for the space of a week or so, all the costume patterns were marked down to about $2.00 each, from their regular price of … considerably more than that. Quick like a bargain hunter, I was on to that, and bought one in my size of every 19th century outfit that I thought I might eventually make, although I gave a miss to the pattern for the Jane Austen high-waisted Empire dress and cropped jacket. Sorry, although that meet my criteria of having a toe-length hem and without a hoop-skirt the size of half of Texas, that look would not flatter me in any way, shape, or form. Indeed – the Empire-style dress does not flatter any woman who is not an anorectic and flat-chested ballet dancer. None of my books so far are set in that era, anyway.

Cotton summer dress

Cotton summer dress

The version I made of this dress in light cotton calico was such a wild success at the last month’s Texas Library Association conference, that I began thinking that I ought to work on another cotton dress, since there are a couple of summer and/or outdoors events coming up. My four other extant outfits are all suits, and in rayon, wool and/or poly-wool – too hot to wear in the Texas summer, even at an indoor venue. This pattern – for an Edwardian day dress, with the gathered front and lace-trimmed yoke looked like a good addition to the vintage wardrobe. I picked up a length of medium-weight cotton shirting materiel in an interesting light violet color, thinking that I would have no problem matching the color … and then I realized the whole dress is fully-lined. And … I could find nothing at the local outlets which came close to matching the pale blueish-violet color, so out went my original scheme; violet dress with a paler violet yoke overlaid with white or cream-color lace, and darker violet belt and hat and accessories to match. Nope – as I said to the kind sales associate at the cutting counter – if you can’t match, then contrast!

So, the eventual outfit will be in the pale blue-violet fabric, with black lace and black satin trim, black satin belt and flamboyant hat made from whatever is left over to match. I may have it done in time to wear to the Wimberley Book Festival next month – but if not, then to certain of the other upcoming events.

14. May 2017 · Comments Off on Elsie the Cow and the Alamo · Categories: Domestic, Old West

Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

Fire engine appearing by courtesy of the Giddings VFD – The latest installation should be out by the middle of May!

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02. May 2017 · Comments Off on Perfect Rotisserie Chicken · Categories: Domestic

Since the regular oven died the death a couple of years ago, we have been using a countertop version with a convection and rotisserie option – which functions I have to say come in quite handy. It will be a while until we can have the Chambers stove renovated and checked for safety issues, since it is a gas model, and have the kitchen renovated to accommodate it. In the mean time, in between time – the countertop model gets a good workout. I confess that I don’t really miss a full-size oven, save when it comes to baking a pizza larger than about twelve inches. But since my daughter is in California helping with extended family matters for another few months … it’s not like I need a big pizza for supper anyway.

I have been giving the rotisserie function a workout whenever I have a whole fryer chicken from Granzins’ and a hankering for various meals using leftover rotisserie chicken. (There are numerous recipes for this ingredient, besides using it in crepes, and for chicken salad.) There are several tricks to getting a well-rotisseried chicken from this little oven – and one of the first is to stuff a whole lemon into the body cavity, and ram the skewer through it. The second is to use cooking string, or silicone ties; one around the drumsticks to secure them to the rotating skewer, and another to keep the wings tight to the body of the chicken. As the chicken cooks, it softens … and begins to flop all over the place. The lemon and the ties keep it all neat and compact as it cooks.

With this chicken, I got adventurous: I had a whole small orange with no particular purpose in mind for it – so that was what I used instead of a lemon. But I marinated the chicken for most of a day in a zip-lock bag, in about a quarter of a cup of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Adams Extract Citrus Siracha spice blend. Yes – the Adams Extract series of spices are another one of our local Texas industries branching out. Small-to-medium sized business, experimenting with bold flavors, rather like Fischer and Weiser with their sauces and jams. Both these brands are carried by the regional HEB chain – and both are absolutely freaking marvelous. One of the big HEB outlets has a food demo counter, where we first sampled some foods cooked with Adams Extract spice mixtures. Once a year, they have a BOGO sale at the HEB. As the regular selling price is not … well, this is not cheap stuff, let me tell you. But even so, they are worth it! But the BOGO event was not to be missed – so a bottle of one spice rub mix that we love and were running short of, and one … that I took a chance on; Citrus Siracha.

Once marinated, I took the chicken out of the plastic bag, dried it off, rubbed another teaspoon of Citrus Siracha on it, moistened with a bit of olive oil, and set it to rotisserie for two to three hours at 350. I could have used more Citrus Siracha – up to the tablespoon, I think, but I didn’t want to take a chance on making it unbearably hot the first time out. But it came out perfect; so tender it about fell off the bone, the skin crispy and mildly spicy. Tonight – chicken fajitas with some of the cooked meat, and tomorrow … who knows?

29. April 2017 · Comments Off on Up to the Minute · Categories: Uncategorized

So, I have been a little … absent from the blogs for the last week or two. There are only so many hours to the day, and I have been caught up in finishing Luna City IV, for publication at mid-May, formally to be launched at the Wimberley Book Festival on the second Saturday in June. Which book is actually a little ahead of schedule; I had thought it would be completed in another month, so I am running ahead of the self-imposed schedule – even with a couple of Tiny Publishing Bidness projects to spend time upon.

This will give me a head start on the sequel to Lone Star Sons, which I hope to have done in time for the Christmas marketing season. Rather like I had hoped for The Golden Road, only what with one thing and another, that particular book missed all but one day of the Christmas marketing season and that one day was a bloody, cold, wind-whipped disaster. Plus, in that wind-whipped disaster, I lost the information for the one person who had paid to order a copy in advance. (Sorry – please PM if you are that person, still looking for your pre-paid copy! Give me the date and place where you ordered it! You’re a fan, and I OWE you a copy!)

Other than that – real life, the garden, the dogs and cats and chickens. Last month’s project was the construction of a set of gates, a lattice gate to keep the chickens in the back garden, and another at the front of the property, to allow a long open garden along the sheltered and south-facing side of the house, dedicated to flowers and vegetables. Plants in the ground, plants in pots along one side, a couple of lattices now half-covered with pole bean vines and lemon cucumbers, and a long bed of native plants and a pair of tomato trees along the other. All of these projects take time, either out in the garden or chained to a hot computer – but I have hopes of both paying back bountifully over the remainder of this year.

The low lattice fence at the back of the house

The low lattice fence at the back of the house